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Bringing Back an Olmsted Parkway

A recent interview conducted by Mike Puma was featured in the April 2015 edition of the Buffalo Spree Magazine.

Picture the Hamlin Park neighborhood in the winter of 1959. As a light snow falls, resident Donnee Hill steps out of his house, feeling the fresh snow crunch under his feet. The mighty elm trees overhead seem to go on forever and create a snow-covered canopy as far as he can see. As he takes a moment to gather himself, he realizes that Humboldt Parkway, where his family has recently bought a house, is one of the most beautiful streets he’s ever seen.

Over fifty years later, when Hill leaves the same home on Humboldt Parkway, he’s now confronted with the Kensington Expressway. Even though he only had a few short years to enjoy the parkway, his memories are vivid. “Walking the parkway was like being in an Ansel Adams photograph,” he says. “When the trucks came in 1962, it was devastating.”

Looking back on that day and so many others like it, Hill remembers the paradise that once was Humboldt Parkway—and he’s not the only one. A movement that has been decades in the making—to restore Olmsted’s vision for his longest and grandest parkway—is gaining traction in Buffalo. Dedicated community members who want Humboldt Parkway returned for future generations to enjoy have organized as the Restore Our Community Coalition.

 

Tell me about the Restore Our Community Coalition (ROCC)—what are you trying to achieve?

Clarke Eaton (founder/board member): To bring back to the neighborhood what was here before the expressway destroyed Humboldt Parkway. I’ve lived in the community for the past forty-eight years, and, like any person who loves their home, I want to see the best for it. I raised my daughter here and she raised her son here. This is something we want for future generations. It’s time for us to go back and restore the beauty of the parkway. I even remember the days we could pet horses still using the bridle path.

Stephanie Barber-Geter (board president): ROCC was formed five years ago, but Clarke has been involved in some form to restore the parkway as far back as the 1970s. I remember as a kid living downtown on Eagle Street when they took all the land, moved everybody, and built the Frederick Douglass Housing Projects, which was a big calamity. I remember a woman named Margaret Strasner, who had to move because of the project and moved to Humboldt Parkway. Unfortunately, with the expressway coming only a few years later, she went from one calamity to another. We’re still dealing with the effects today and need to fix it.
We’ve been reaching out to the community with our “I Remember” campaign, where residents recall the beauty of the parkway so we can have an identifiable face for the movement.

 

What’s the solution that ROCC has come up with to restore Olmsted’s vision?

CE: We thought we would turn and look at the economics of the situation. A restoration of the parkway would be beneficial on so many levels. It would create jobs and help maintain and improve the community, while, in turn, draw more people to the neighborhood.

SBG: We looked at every possible fix and we believe that covering the expressway is the way to restore the community and fix the residual effects it created, like the loss of business on Fillmore and Jefferson. It’s not our intent to disturb the flow of traffic with our solution. We don’t propose filling it in; we don’t think that makes sense. Capping the expressway allows us to reconnect the community, while still allowing easy access to downtown.

 

Why not just fill it in and be done with it? It seems like an opportunity to fix systemic problems of sprawl in our region.

SBG: For months, our meetings were just focused on how big this could possibly be, but we decided to have a more specific focus with the ultimate goal of restoring the parkway in the most feasible and least disruptive way. There was a big concern that removing the expressway would result in significant traffic on our streets and many folks along Humboldt Parkway wanted us to avoid that. We believe that filling it in places us too much at a disadvantage for even getting it started.

KSF: The design report that was produced by Professors Hata and Warren at UB was to first and foremost reconnect the neighborhood, almost like pulling up a zipper. If we fill it, and create heavy traffic at grade, then we’ve not closed the zipper and effectively reconnected the neighborhood.

 

This would be a pretty big project; what would be the first step?

SBG: Phase one would see the expressway capped from just south of the science museum all the way up to East Ferry. It would actually extend the parkway beyond where it was originally supposed to stop, but it’s an expansion on Olmsted’s original vision.

 

What about the rest of the parkway, since it went all the way to Delaware Park?

SBG: Phase two is more ambitious, and the groups we’ve had look at this have told us we can do some very interesting things with it. Because the expressway eventually becomes grade level past East Ferry, it would require some excavation. A part of that idea could include an extension of light rail that would allow people to get between downtown and the airport. That change in grade is due to the Scajaquada Creek being buried, which presents a challenge. There are a couple of thoughts about how to deal with it, and other projects have run into the same problem, like the big dig in Boston.

 

Speaking about the big dig, how much is this going to cost and where is the money coming from?

SBG: We’ve been working with a number around $500 million. It’s a lot of money, but we believe the money is out there within the state and federal governments.

 

Who are your political and community partners in this endeavor?

SBG: We’ve got a lot of politicians already involved and interested, thanks to the efforts of our executive director. The churches along the expressway have been very supportive, our various community organizations have been very involved, and all of our elected officials. We certainly have support from our Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Senators Kennedy and Schumer, and Congressman Higgins. The mayor and council even passed a resolution in support of the project. There are so many others like the people involved in removing the Robert Moses in Niagara Falls; we have a lot of people who want to help.
Although Sean Ryan doesn’t represent the district, he has been a friendly ally. I hope he’s able to keep the Scajaquada upgrade movement alive for the Parkside community. Speeding through a park just isn’t right, and something has got to give.

 

Do you think this project can have broader implication outside of Buffalo?

SBG: I think in a time when the president and elected officials are looking for infrastructure projects to put people to work, we look pretty good. The shelf life of the current expressway is fast expiring and it has serious issues that will need to be corrected eventually. A project like this is already necessary ,and employs a major number of people in our community for a long time. At this point in Buffalo, the city is coming alive and it should be coming alive for everyone.

KSF: This project could generate over 950 construction jobs for the entire course of work, which would be five to ten years. That number doesn’t include potential additional employment for infill housing, rehab work in the neighborhood, and improving Jefferson and Fillmore businesses. The potential ripple effects of this project are huge.

Mike Puma is a project manager at Preservation Studios.



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‘I Remember’ Campaign Hopes to Restore Humboldt Parkway

The following article was posted on December 14th, 2014 by Time Warner Cable News.

‘I Remember’ Campaign Hopes to Restore Humboldt Parkway

BUFFALO N.Y. — A local group is looking to restore what once was a vibrant neighborhood in Buffalo.

The ‘Restore Our Community Coalition’ or ROCC, kicked off the ‘I Remember’ Campaign with hopes of bringing the park back to Humboldt Parkway. continue reading →



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Restore Our Community Coalition Launches “I Remember” Campaign

The following article was posted on December 14th, 2014 by Buffalo Rising.

Restore Our Community Coalition Launches “I Remember” Campaign

Everyone living in Buffalo has one or two ‘lost along the way” items on their wish list that they would like to see brought back and restored. I’m talking about significant historic landmarks that got pummeled at one point or another. Landmarks that made this city great, but are no longer with us at this point. continue reading →



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Hamlin Park hoping to regain its wholeness

This fantastic article was posted on December 14th, 2014 on Buffalo News.

Hamlin Park hoping to regain its wholeness

Don Hill remembers when his parents bought a home in the Hamlin Park neighborhood in the 1950s – only the third black family on his block of the old Humboldt Parkway.

Hill, now 68, had a newspaper delivery route for two years, and recalls his neighbors and “wonderful” experiences living along one of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parkways. When they first moved in, the neighborhood was still somewhat exclusive, with attractive homes lining the wide, grassy median of the beautiful, tree-lined boulevard.  continue reading →



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Restore Our Community Coalition Launches “I Remember” Campaign

MEDIA ALERT/PHOTO OPPORTUNITY

Restore Our Community Coalition Launches “I Remember” Campaign

December 6, 2014

Campaign asks residents and community to Remember the beauty of the Humboldt Parkway.

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“Update on a Restored Humboldt Parkway: “The Green Parkway””

Below article was published in The Challenger, Aug 3, 2014.

Update on a Restored Humboldt Parkway: “The Green Parkway”

Humboldt Parkway, Buffalo, NY

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“The beginning of the end for Robert Moses Parkway will restore Olmsted’s vision”

This article was published in Buffalo News November 18, 2014.

A “riverway,” at top, will replace part of the Robert Moses Parkway, bottom.

“The beginning of the end for Robert Moses Parkway will restore Olmsted’s vision

Robert Moses was a complicated man who left a complicated legacy. He was the powerful state development official responsible for some spectacular public achievements, including New York City’s Triborough Bridge and Long Island’s Jones Beach, but also for some long-lasting disasters, prominent of which in these parts is the Niagara County parkway that carries his name. Its damage is about to be undone.

The Robert Moses Parkway begins at the North Grand Island Bridge, then sweeps west along the Niagara River, cutting city residents off from one of the world’s most famous and spectacular waterways. The City of Niagara Falls interrupts its path, but it soon resumes its destructive course, cutting the city’s North Side off from one of the world’s most famous and spectacular waterways. Farther north, the parkway moves inland and is, for the most part, innocuous and useful.

But now, as part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion, much of the parkway will be reconfigured to restore the riverfront to the righteous vision of Frederick Law Olmsted, the 19th century designer of Niagara Falls State Park, the country’s first state park. Once again, it will become a place of beauty, where visitors can appreciate the splendor of the upper river, free from the scar that is the Robert Moses Parkway.

The work has been in the planning for two years, but last week work began. The project will remove a 1-mile stretch of the parkway and replace it with a “riverway” – a stretch that will improve pedestrian access to the river, as Olmsted wanted.

Specifically, a section of the parkway west of John B. Daly Boulevard will be converted from four lanes to two; the two eastbound lanes between the park and Daly Boulevard have sat unused for nearly 25 years.

In addition, the overpass at the interchange between the parkway and Daly Boulevard will be removed and replaced with a roundabout. An embankment that propped up the parkway will be lowered, making the river more easily visible. Nature areas will be added, including a small pond and a more extensive system of trails along the river. There will also be a new path to the water from Buffalo Avenue near the First Street bridge over to Goat Island.

And that’s just what is happening along the upper river. Plans are also in the works to remove the section of the parkway that blocks North Side residents from the Niagara River Gorge, which in its tumultuous, churning current is nearly as spectacular as the falls, themselves.

Moses elevated the automobile above all other concerns. It was the way of the future, he believed, and all resources had to be marshaled to its benefit. No price was too high to pay in disruption or even suffering. But here, more than 50 years after the parkway’s construction, the mistake is being fixed.

The natural resource that Western New York has in abundance is water, and in some of its most breathtaking configurations. Access to that resource was stolen away, and not just in Niagara County. With this project, Western New Yorkers are beginning to get back what is theirs. That counts as a big day.”

Download a .pdf of this article, here



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Renovating homes in the Hamlin Park Neighborhood



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“Hamlin Park neighborhood envisions change”

The Buffalo News

Below article was featured in Buffalo News, July 22, 2014.

“Hamlin Park neighborhood envisions change

To the people gathered Tuesday evening around the wooden-block model of the Hamlin Park neighborhood on Buffalo’s East Side, it seemed like an exact replica, except for one small but significant detail.

Between East Ferry Street and the Buffalo Science Museum at Best Street, the Route 33 Kensington Expressway disappeared. It went into a tunnel. At grade level, it looked like what it was before the six-lane road was built in the 1960s – a tree-lined Frederick Law Olmsted parkway.

This “green parkway” plan is the vision of the Restore Our Community Coalition, a group of more than 20 East Side civic and faith-based organizations, who put the model on display outside the Cummings Room at the Science Museum as a preview to a public meeting on the project.”

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“Humboldt Parkway, The Dream of a “Green Parkway””

Below article was featured in Buffalo Rising July 18, 2014.

“Humboldt Parkway, The Dream of a “Green Parkway”

Neighbors living around Humboldt Parkway are rallying together in hopes that one day they might see the revitalization of their neighborhood, with a transition from freeway to “Green Parkway”. A new University at Buffalo study/report* brings to light the huge economic impact that would be realized if the project was to come to fruition (exceeding $1 billion – property values, construction employment of hundreds of jobs, etc). The area that is most impacted by the transition stretches the length between the Fillmore Business District and the Jefferson Street Business District.”

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